The gallantry award winning IAF pilot [Retd] is upset at Fighter makers for naming real events but not sticking close to the facts. S/he is particularly peeved at Fighter showing Pak Air Force bombing Indian military targets, which never happened in the aftermath of the Balakot Air Strike.

By Mayur Lookhar

Hrithik Roshan-starrer Fighter [2024] released worldwide on 25 January. The reviews have been mixed, but more than critics, the best judge of the movie is the Indian Air Force. It is hard to get an official reaction, but Beyond Bollywood reconnected with a gallantry award winning IAF pilot [Retd] to get his/her perspective on the Bollywood film. Once again, s/he spoke on the condition of anonymity.

As it was buzzed earlier, Fighter [2024] eventually took inspiration from real events – the Pulwama terror attack [2019] and the retaliatory Balakot Air strike by IAF inside Pakistan – to create a subsequent fictional conflict.

The retired officer is fine with the fictional plot but is upset with Fighter makers for naming the real events, dates.

“You are talking about real national events but you did not stick anywhere close to the facts,” lamented the IAF pilot [Retd]. S/he was fine with certain artistic liberties like Fighter having special Air Force units called Air Dragons, Fighter Forever.  S/he though informed all that are no such quick response teams in an Air force. 

The revered former officer was stunned by some bizarre creative liberties. S/he felt that if you are going to show Indian jets being shot down, then the film shouldn’t be naming real events at all.

On the positive front, this retired officer commended Fighter makers for getting few things right.

S/he says, “The good point is that not many movies stick to correct uniform. Quite a lot of mannerism is correct. I will not go into the dance, disco. However, on an evening when you do a strike, you don’t go to a disco because you’ll be on a high alert.”

The film has IAF officers partying after a successful air strike in Balakot. S/he was particularly left disappointed by the final 30 minutes of the film and didn’t mince words in saying, “As far as the last 25 minutes of the film is concerned, Mr. Logic was told to kindly leave the hall. I mean what was that?”

The officer though approved the visual quality in the climax.  S/he was of the view that the air combat depictions were nicely done. Of course, it involved VFX.  There was appreciation of few performances with Anil Kapoor standing out, but s/he remarked that lead actor Hrithik Roshan was okay in the film. Deepika Padukone though came in for certain criticism.

“They could have avoided those cute looks from Deepika whilst flying. It doesn’t talk of professionalism. When you are flying a plane in the [Kashmir] valley, there is no place for romance,” chided the officer. 

Hrithik Roshan, too, copped a similar criticism. “You don’t hang around in a helicopter waving the flag. It is extremely dangerous as you can fall off. I will still take all that as artistic liberty had they stuck to the story,” said the gallantry award winner.

As a professional, this retired pilot didn’t enjoy Fighter much but was particularly unhappy with Fighter for not sticking to facts with regards to the Balakot Air Strike.

Shedding some light on the operation, the officer said, “What happened in Balakot? We went, we struck, we bombed terrorist camps and we came back. Not a single Pakistani fighter got airborne. They were not there in that area. We did some deception strikes. The Pakistani Air Force thought that we were going somewhere else. It was a beautifully done air strike.”

The Pakistani Air Force had scrambled its F-16s next day but they didn’t strike any Indian Military target. According to the officer, Pakistan Air Force simply wanted to tell their Indian counterparts that they, too, are capable of carrying out such strikes but probably was too scared of the likely retaliation.

“Not a single [Indian] military target was hit. Pakistan Air Force told on record that the intent was not to hit anything. Had they hit something, then the war would have escalated. In the film, they have shown our Army bases getting bombed. You don’t do all that with a national event. Most people don’t have an idea as to what really happened. They would start believing this. They would believe (the lies) that India lost two pilots,” said the officer.

“Pakistan had on record stated that two of their pilots had ejected, which was a big proof that Pakistani aircrafts were shot down. Now [in the film] you are saying that Indian Air Force lost two pilots. What nonsense is this? You don’t do such things. We’d lost one pilot [Abhinandan] and he came back,” s/he added.

The officer reminded that when real events are dramatic in nature, there was no need for Fighter to have additional drama. S/he also disapproved of any one-man show in war films.

“One thing which is hard to digest. A fighter pilot is highly dependent on his machine. He cannot be Salman Khan, who kills 40 people with one rifle. He is bound by the limitations of his aircraft. Fighter pilot doesn’t haver to do everything. Tom Cruise never had to jump out of his aircraft and fight a terrorist on ground in Top Gun. I mean why does a hero have to do everything? Why can’t it be a team effort?” quizzed the real-life hero.

In the film, Patty [Hrithik Roshan] is involved in air combat in the climax but then he drops out of his air craft to take on the antagonist Azhar Akhtar [Rishabh Sawhney] in a ground battle.

“Tomorrow, if you have a fighter plane in a film on Indian Navy, then would you show him running 5,000 kilometers from Karachi to POK and then kill the villain?” questioned the veteran officer.

S/he reiterated how in war films, makers ought to stick to facts. The officer is puzzled as to how films mention in their disclaimer that that any resemblance is purely coincidental but then Fighter didn’t shy from taking names of real events. S/he found that to be the biggest problem with Fighter. S/he, however, was largely fine with Fighter.

“Fighter is still a better made film than some of the recent examples. 60 % of the movie is well made. They lost the plot with the last 30-40 per cent,” s/he concluded.

The officer added that till date, the best authentic movie on Indian Air Force remains Govind Nihalini’s Vijeta [1982]. There was praise for Hrithik Roshan’s Lakshya too. S/he recalled an interesting story about the Farhan Akhtar directorial.

Hrithik Roshan in Lakshya (2004)

“I liked Lakshya [2004]. It was well made. Farhan Akhtar was upset that the movie flopped. I was told that once Akhtar went to the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. He was talking to the cadets, one of the Army officers asked how many of you joined the Armed Forces after seeing Lakshya? 70-80 percent raised their hands. Farhan realized that his film was a true success,” recalled the IAF pilot.

The officer expressed surprise that a film on Balakot Air Strike has been made so soon.  S/he wondered how Fighter [2024] got the clearances to depict real events. The officer felt that the makers could have used fictitious names, say a Rawalkot, instead of Balakot, and the dates, too, could have been changed.

Rishabh Sawhney

Another bizarre thing in Fighter is how even Pakistani Generals are shown to be intimated by the terrorist Azhar Akhtar. Commenting on this, the officer says, “I don’t have much respect for the Pakistani establishment as such, but I don’t think an Army General can be guided by a terrorist. ISI might be doing something, but you don’t have a terrorist walking in GHQ and controlling things. This is buffoonery.”

While the Indian Air Force veteran didn’t enjoy Fighter much, his/her daughter loved the film.

 “I found it quite entertaining. The visual effects were quite good, almost as good as a Top Gun. Of course, without the music, dance, and the fluff that Bollywood adds. But if you go to see a Bollywood film, that is what you expect. I got what I went in for. If you try to figure out logical inconsistencies, then yes, there are a lot but it tugs at your heart strings,” said the daughter.

Hrithik Roshan, director Siddharth Anand will respect the views of the retired IAF pilot, but will hope that the audience at large has a similar experience like the young lady.

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